The French Laundry, a fine dining restaurant, may have a charming rustic country look but make no mistake about it – it’s among the finest restaurants in the United States, thanks to its gourmet foods prepared by the best chefs. As such, you should be mindful of your manners when you’re in the restaurant, a mindset that actually starts when you make reservations for your dinner date. Keep in mind always that your fine dining experience is a two-way street – behave as expected of a good customer and you will be provided with great service!
With that said, here are things that you should never be when you arrive at the restaurant.
Be a Starving Diner
Yes, of course, you’re in the French Laundry to eat a multi-course meal, likely the best you will have for the day or week, but remember that a fine dining experience progresses at a leisurely pace. This isn’t a fast-food experience where the food and drinks are meant to be served at the counter, followed by scarfing them down because you’re so hungry, and then leaving soon afterwards!
Instead, you and your dinner mates are supposed to enjoy the dining experience from start to finish at a slower pace. You will be provided with ample time to choose from the menu, perhaps discuss the choices with your friends and even with the server. You may even have to wait for 30 minutes or so before the first course is served.
The bottom line: You shouldn’t arrive at the restaurant with an empty stomach, much less with an intense feeling of hunger. You should eat a little, perhaps a small bowl of soup with a piece of cracker, an hour before coming into the restaurant. You won’t then be so hungry that you can’t wait for the meal to be served.
Be the First One to Sit
But who will sit first, you ask? Well, it depends on whether you’re a guest or the host. Don’t worry, nonetheless, as you will be seated soon enough – it’s just a matter of fine dining etiquette that needs to be followed.
If you’re a guest, you should let the host make the recommendations as to where you should sit – and the host makes the recommendations for the other guests, too. You should ideally follow the host’s recommended seat unless you have a valid objection, and it’s best to discreetly discuss it with the host beforehand so as to avoid an awkward situation later on.
If you’re the host, you have to make the recommendations based on your personal judgment. This means that you will be the last to sit down, as soon as your guests have actually taken their seats. You may, for example, recommend a VIP guest to get the best view of the restaurant or to sit next to you so as to discuss important business.
As a host, you should then have a planned seating arrangement even before you and your guests enter the restaurant. You can get a feel of the restaurant and ask for a certain table, if possible, in case the dinner date is a life-changing or career-changing one.
Be a Pretender
We are referring to being a food and wine snob, a mistake that many people make in order to impress others in a fine dining restaurant. Unless you have credible wine connoisseur credentials, you shouldn’t set out to impress the sommelier and/or wine steward because it can backfire (i.e., you can be exposed as a fraud). You may even spill the wine on the immaculate white tablecloth or on yourself, and it’s an accident that can either become a source of embarrassment or a great memory – but why take the risk?
Don’t swirl the glass, don’t perform the sniff test, and don’t spit out the wine – in short, don’t be the wine expert when you’re not! Instead, ask the wine steward or sommelier for a wine that will pair well with everybody’s food, listen to the suggestion, and go with it – you’re in the company of a wine expert who will likely stake their reputation on their suggestion.
Is price an issue? Don’t worry as the servers, chefs and manager will not take it against you because everybody has the right to enjoy a fine dining experience.
But don’t express your price-related concerns so directly! Just point at the menu to a bottle within your price range and tell the wine steward that you’re looking at a bottle along these lines. You will be given with a bottle that meets your price range and pairs well with the food, not to mention that you avoid awkward explanations about your budget to everybody at your table.
Most important, you should order something that you love to eat and easy to eat, too. You don’t want to deal with complicated steps in eating your food since you want to focus on enjoying the food itself as well as the company of your family and friends.